Welcome to MSF Field Research


MSF is known for its humanitarian medical work, but it has also produced important research based on its field experience. It has published articles in over 100 peer-reviewed journals and they have often changed clinical practice and been used for humanitarian advocacy. These articles are available for free, in full text - no login required. We sincerely thank the publishers for their permission to archive on this site.


Published Research and Commentary
Conference Abstracts
Programme Descriptions
Research Resources


  • Measuring the unknown: an estimator and simulation study for assessing case reporting during epidemics

    Jarvis, CI; Gimma, A; Finger, F; Morris, TP; Thompson, JA; de Waroux, OlP; Edmunds, WJ; Funk, S; Jombart, T (bioRxiv, 2021-12-17)
    The fraction of cases reported, known as ‘reporting’, is a key performance indicator in an outbreak response, and an essential factor to consider when modelling epidemics and assessing their impact on populations. Unfortunately, its estimation is inherently difficult, as it relates to the part of an epidemic which is, by definition, not observed. We introduce a simple statistical method for estimating reporting, initially developed for the response to Ebola in Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), 2018-2020. This approach uses transmission chain data typically gathered through case investigation and contact tracing, and uses the proportion of investigated cases with a known, reported infector as a proxy for reporting. Using simulated epidemics, we study how this method performs for different outbreak sizes and reporting levels. Results suggest that our method has low bias, reasonable precision, and despite sub-optimal coverage, usually provides estimates within close range (5-10%) of the true value. Being fast and simple, this method could be useful for estimating reporting in real-time in settings where person-to-person transmission is the main driver of the epidemic, and where case investigation is routinely performed as part of surveillance and contact tracing activities.
  • The socioeconomic burden of antibiotic resistance in conflict-affected settings and refugee hosting countries: a systematic scoping review.

    Kobeissi, E; Menassa, M; Moussally, K; Repetto, E; Soboh, I; Hajjar, M; Saleh, S; Abu-Sittah, G (BMC, 2021-04-06)
    Background Antibiotic resistance (ABR) is a major global threat. Armed and protracted conflicts act as multipliers of infection and ABR, thus leading to increased healthcare and societal costs. We aimed to understand and describe the socioeconomic burden of ABR in conflict-affected settings and refugee hosting countries by conducting a systematic scoping review. Methods A systematic search of PubMed, Medline (Ovid), Embase, Web of Science, SCOPUS and Open Grey databases was conducted to identify all relevant human studies published between January 1990 and August 2019. An updated search was also conducted in April 2020 using Medline/Ovid. Independent screenings of titles/abstracts followed by full texts were performed using pre-defined criteria. The Newcastle-Ottawa Scale was used to assess study quality. Data extraction and analysis were based on the PICOS framework and following the PRISMA-ScR guideline. Results The search yielded 8 studies (7 publications), most of which were single-country, mono-center and retrospective studies. The studies were conducted in Lebanon (n = 3), Iraq (n = 2), Jordan (n = 1), Palestine (n = 1) and Yemen (n = 1). Most of the studies did not have a primary aim to assess the socioeconomic impact of ABR and were small studies with limited statistical power that could not demonstrate significant associations. The included studies lacked sufficient information for the accurate evaluation of the cost incurred by antibiotic resistant infections in conflict-affected countries. Conclusion This review highlights the scarcity of research on the socioeconomic burden of ABR on general populations in conflict-affected settings and on refugees and migrants in host countries, and lists recommendations for consideration in future studies. Further studies are needed to understand the cost of ABR in these settings to develop and implement adaptable policies.
  • Epidemiological, clinical, and public health response characteristics of a large outbreak of diphtheria among the Rohingya population in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, 2017 to 2019: A retrospective study.

    Polonsky, JA; Ivey, M; Mazhar, MKA; Rahman, Z; le Polain de Waroux, O; Karo, B; Jalava, K; Vong, S; Baidjoe, A; Diaz, J; et al. (Public Library of Science, 2021-04-01)
    Background Unrest in Myanmar in August 2017 resulted in the movement of over 700,000 Rohingya refugees to overcrowded camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. A large outbreak of diphtheria subsequently began in this population. Methods and findings Data were collected during mass vaccination campaigns (MVCs), contact tracing activities, and from 9 Diphtheria Treatment Centers (DTCs) operated by national and international organizations. These data were used to describe the epidemiological and clinical features and the control measures to prevent transmission, during the first 2 years of the outbreak. Between November 10, 2017 and November 9, 2019, 7,064 cases were reported: 285 (4.0%) laboratory-confirmed, 3,610 (51.1%) probable, and 3,169 (44.9%) suspected cases. The crude attack rate was 51.5 cases per 10,000 person-years, and epidemic doubling time was 4.4 days (95% confidence interval [CI] 4.2–4.7) during the exponential growth phase. The median age was 10 years (range 0–85), and 3,126 (44.3%) were male. The typical symptoms were sore throat (93.5%), fever (86.0%), pseudomembrane (34.7%), and gross cervical lymphadenopathy (GCL; 30.6%). Diphtheria antitoxin (DAT) was administered to 1,062 (89.0%) out of 1,193 eligible patients, with adverse reactions following among 229 (21.6%). There were 45 deaths (case fatality ratio [CFR] 0.6%). Household contacts for 5,702 (80.7%) of 7,064 cases were successfully traced. A total of 41,452 contacts were identified, of whom 40,364 (97.4%) consented to begin chemoprophylaxis; adherence was 55.0% (N = 22,218) at 3-day follow-up. Unvaccinated household contacts were vaccinated with 3 doses (with 4-week interval), while a booster dose was administered if the primary vaccination schedule had been completed. The proportion of contacts vaccinated was 64.7% overall. Three MVC rounds were conducted, with administrative coverage varying between 88.5% and 110.4%. Pentavalent vaccine was administered to those aged 6 weeks to 6 years, while tetanus and diphtheria (Td) vaccine was administered to those aged 7 years and older. Lack of adequate diagnostic capacity to confirm cases was the main limitation, with a majority of cases unconfirmed and the proportion of true diphtheria cases unknown. Conclusions To our knowledge, this is the largest reported diphtheria outbreak in refugee settings. We observed that high population density, poor living conditions, and fast growth rate were associated with explosive expansion of the outbreak during the initial exponential growth phase. Three rounds of mass vaccinations targeting those aged 6 weeks to 14 years were associated with only modestly reduced transmission, and additional public health measures were necessary to end the outbreak. This outbreak has a long-lasting tail, with Rt oscillating at around 1 for an extended period. An adequate global DAT stockpile needs to be maintained. All populations must have access to health services and routine vaccination, and this access must be maintained during humanitarian crises.
  • Characteristics, utilisation and influence of viewpoint articles from the Structured Operational Research and Training Initiative (SORT IT) – 2009-2020

    Khogali, M; Tayler-Smith, K; Harries, AD; Zachariah, R; Kumar, A; Davtyan, H; Satyanarayana, S; Denisiuk, O; van Griensven, J; Reid, A; et al. (F1000Research, 2021-03-21)
    Background: The Structured Operational Research and Training Initiative (SORT IT) teaches the practical skills of conducting and publishing operational research (OR) to influence health policy and/or practice. In addition to original research articles, viewpoint articles are also produced and published as secondary outputs of SORT IT courses. We assessed the characteristics, use and influence of viewpoint articles derived from all SORT IT courses. Methods: This was a cross-sectional study involving all published viewpoint articles derived from the SORT IT courses held from August 2009 - March 2020. Characteristics of these papers were sourced from the papers themselves and from SORT-IT members involved in writing the papers. Data on use were sourced from the metrics provided on the online publishing platforms and from Google Scholar. Influence on policy and practice was self-assessed by the authors of the papers and was performed only for papers deemed to be ‘calls for action’. Results: A total of 41 viewpoint papers were published. Of these, 15 (37%) were ‘calls for action’. In total, 31 (76%) were published in open-access journals and the remaining 10 in delayed access journals. In 12 (29%) of the papers, first authors were from low and middle-income countries (LMICs). Female authors (54%) were included in 22, but only four (10%) and two (5%) of first and last authors respectively, were female. Only seven (17%) papers had available data regarding online views and downloads. The median citation score for the papers was four (IQR 1-9). Of the 15 ‘call for action’ papers, six influenced OR capacity building, two influenced policy and practice, and three influenced both OR capacity building within SORT IT and policy and practice. Conclusion: Viewpoint articles generated during SORT IT courses appear to complement original OR studies and are valued contributors to the dissemination of OR practices in LMICs.
  • Impact of systematic early tuberculosis detection using Xpert MTB/RIF Ultra in children with severe pneumonia in high tuberculosis burden countries (TB-Speed pneumonia): a stepped wedge cluster randomized trial.

    Vessiere, A; Font, H; Gabillard, D; Adonis-Koffi, L; Borand, L; Chabala, C; Khosa, C; Mavale, S; Moh, R; Mulenga, V; et al. (BMC, 2021-03-20)
    Background: In high tuberculosis (TB) burden settings, there is growing evidence that TB is common in children with pneumonia, the leading cause of death in children under 5 years worldwide. The current WHO standard of care (SOC) for young children with pneumonia considers a diagnosis of TB only if the child has a history of prolonged symptoms or fails to respond to antibiotic treatments. As a result, many children with TB-associated severe pneumonia are currently missed or diagnosed too late. We therefore propose a diagnostic trial to assess the impact on mortality of adding the systematic early detection of TB using Xpert MTB/RIF Ultra (Ultra) performed on nasopharyngeal aspirates (NPA) and stool samples to the WHO SOC for children with severe pneumonia, followed by immediate initiation of anti-TB treatment in children testing positive on any of the samples. Methods: TB-Speed Pneumonia is a pragmatic stepped-wedge cluster randomized controlled trial conducted in six countries with high TB incidence rate (Côte d'Ivoire, Cameroon, Uganda, Mozambique, Zambia and Cambodia). We will enrol 3780 children under 5 years presenting with WHO-defined severe pneumonia across 15 hospitals over 18 months. All hospitals will start managing children using the WHO SOC for severe pneumonia; one hospital will be randomly selected to switch to the intervention every 5 weeks. The intervention consists of the WHO SOC plus rapid TB detection on the day of admission using Ultra performed on 1 nasopharyngeal aspirate and 1 stool sample. All children will be followed for 3 months, with systematic trial visits at day 3, discharge, 2 weeks post-discharge, and week 12. The primary endpoint is all-cause mortality 12 weeks after inclusion. Qualitative and health economic evaluations are embedded in the trial. Discussion: In addition to testing the main hypothesis that molecular detection and early treatment will reduce TB mortality in children, the strength of such pragmatic research is that it provides some evidence regarding the feasibility of the intervention as part of routine care. Should this intervention be successful, safe and well tolerated, it could be systematically implemented at district hospital level where children with severe pneumonia are referred.

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